Directed by: Menno Meyjes
Premise: David (John Cusack), a widowed science fiction writer, adopts a child (Bobby Coleman) who claims to be a Martian. As the boy integrates into his new home, David tries to wax his son out of the fantasy.
What Works: Martian Child has a great performance by Bobby Coleman as Dennis, the boy who believes he is a Martian. The role demands a lot of subtle work by the young actor and he delivers. John Cusack is also good and Martian Child stands as one of his better films. The rapport between David and Dennis is an interesting one, as David recognizes the child’s fantasy as a coping mechanism and uses it to open up their relationship. The film is able to make an antagonist out of the adoption board, headed by Richard Schiff, and makes the board into an obstacle without totally demonizing them. It’s a credible and humane conflict that puts what is best for the child at stake. There is a lot of humor in Martian Child and the picture has a great deal of fun with the awkward beginning of the father-son relationship and gets a lot of mileage out of Dennis’ fantasy.
What Doesn’t: Martian Child is a fairly standard single parent story. Although it does that story well, it also does not do anything particularly new or innovative either. The romance between David and Harlee (Amanda Peet) is problematic. The sparks are there and there is no reason in the story that the two of them cannot get together, but if Martian Child allows that to happen it would ruin the challenge facing its protagonist: proving that a single man is capable of raising a troubled child. Keeping the characters apart for these strategic reasons makes the love story frustrating for the viewer.
Bottom Line: Martian Child is a fun and sweet little movie. The performance by Coleman is very good and hopefully is a sign of roles to come. The film retreads some familiar territory but it does that territory very well.
Episode: #170 (December 16, 2007)